Trained faith is a triumphant gladness in having nothing but God – not rest, no foothold – nothing but Himself. A triumphant gladness in swinging out into the abyss, rejoicing in every fresh emergency that is going to prove Him true. ‘The Lord alone’ – that is trained faith.” 9 September 1902
“Mom! Dad! Have you heard the latest weather report?! Hurricane Irma is coming straight up Central Florida – through Lake County.” It is 11:30 p.m. We have been without power now for several hours. The batteries on our radio are dead. (So much for “buying in advance!”) Our only connection to the world is our land phone and to our three children who have been faithfully updating us on every new development: two tornado warnings, a hard hit on their childhood town of Lake Wales – and now an unexpected change in direction, the eye of the storm predicted to come through our town.
The calls continue – reports of damages (and terror) along the relentless path northward, statistics of sustained as well as gusts of winds, updates on tornado status. And, now, as the clock pushes 2:00 a,m., the last intrepid caller confesses, “I think I better go to bed. I’ll call you in the morning.”
We settle back into the darkness awaiting God knows what. I consider our preparations: all furniture and moveable objects have been brought into the house, we’ve stocked up on soup, peanut butter and crackers and placed water bottles in the freezer to extend the cooling. We’ve gathered together all our battery-lit candles making a dimly lit pathway from room to room. There is nothing left to do but settle into our makeshift bedroom in the downstairs library – the closest location to our “safe place” – and wait out the storm: await the unknown. That is, I await the unknown. Dave is fast asleep!
I lay wide-eyed on the sofa. My mind races. What if there is a tornado? Will I hear it in time for us to retreat to the tiny bathroom: our designated “safe place?” With memories of Hurricane Charlie (2004) I wonder what the world will be like when the night is over. The back screen door is slaps open and shut with the increasingly strong gusts of wind. We should have taken up the offer to join our North Carolinian family during the storm. We should have tested the batteries on the radio before the stores were emptied of supplies. We are virtually alone without any means of communication. What if we have a medical emergency? I don’t know what is happening nor when it will end.
Reality: I feel completely helpless – I am completely helpless – in the known and of the unknown. There is absolutely nothing I can do but wait it out. Howling winds and strange sounds are magnified in the absolute darkness of night. How do I pass the seemingly endless night hours of unknowing – and, yes, fear?
Fear. Where does trust in God come in? Are there any promises I can claim? Any guarantees of protection? I try to recall Scripture verses. (I must remember to memorize more – later). I turn to familiar hymns of the faith – easier to recall – at least the choruses. Stronger gusts of wind batter the house and Dave stirs. Noting my anxiety, he suggests that I sing “God of Grace and God of Glory.” “Shall we sing it together?” I invite. “No, sing it to yourself. Not out loud. In your mind.” (He dozes off again!) The words of the chorus come to me and with it insight:
“Grant us wisdom, Grant us courage, For the facing of this hour, For the facing of this hour.”
It’s courage I need. And for courage I pray: for the facing of the hours ahead. There is no way around it: I must pass through it. Whatever that means. As to promises? There are no guarantees of outcome. But there is, in Scripture, the repeated promise of God’s Presence. He said, “My presence will go with you, and I’ll give you rest.” And that is enough. The “rest” is in His Presence, not in the outcome. Another verse, one of my favorites, comes to mind: “The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7) I clasp unto these promises to fortify my night vigil.
The hours pass slowly: endless gusts of wind followed by a sudden then prolonged stillness. Is it over? I venture to the front of the house and open the door to an eerie calm. The eye of the storm. I slam shut the door and return to my vigil. The winds build, again, in intensity. Will it ever end? The sky slowly lightens promising a new day. The phone rings. Our daughter asks, “How are you?” and I ask her, “What is happening?” “You’re on the other side of the storm. The worse is over.”
Five hours. And the worse is over. Debris covers the ground; lack of power inconveniences our day. But we were spared. My mind turns to those in more precarious situations. Without the protection of a strong roof or the presence of a strong, albeit slumbering, man. I consider those who have recently experienced loss and destruction through flood surges. The people who live in a constant state of the unknown due to unending war or disease or poverty. How does one carry on when there is no relief from anxiety or guarantee of outcome?
I recall the physical perils Lilias faced in her years in North Africa. She weathered blinding sandstorms in the Sahara – with only tent and camping gear – that paralyzed her guide who said with characteristic fatalism: “If you die you die” or “It is written.” She experienced suffocating siroccos and mountainous mudslides, hostile enemies and exposure to deadly disease. Yet, it was not the physical storms with which she seemed to wrestle. (She probably would have slept through Hurricane Irma!) No, it was the spiritual battles and emotional storms that sapped her energy and brought her to the lowest places. Writing about the outward challenges of their early years in North Africa, she acknowledged that the greatest disappointments were in themselves: “The testings on the battle-field where the inner life failed, the nerve strain with which all teems out here, – the lessons which we thought we knew and which we had ‘turned back again and again to be learnt afresh.”
I think of storm as metaphor. How the struggles of life so aptly parallel the storms of nature.: waves of betrayal. . . disease. . . disappointment in relationships. . . financial setbacks. . . depression. . . addiction. . . to name a few. During the storm – short-lived (as with my 5 hours of darkness) or ongoing – we don’t know what we will experience in the storm nor what will be the outcome. Yet we can – we must – cling to our faith in who God is and what He can do. We can rest in His goodness and His loving care for us. He is our shelter in the time of storm: our soul shelter.
An old seaman was quoted as saying: “In fierce storms, we must do one thing; there is only one way: we must put the ship in a certain position and keep her there.” Richard
Fuller went on to make this observation: “You must stay upon the Lord; and come what may – winds, waves, cross-seas, thunder, lighting, frowning rock, roaring breaker – no matter what, you must lash yourself to the helm, and hold fast your confidence in God’s faithfulness. His covenant engagement. His everlasting love in Christ Jesus.”
I admit it: I didn’t score well in the faith department during the storm. (My sleeping husband did much better: having prepared for the storm he could sleep through it!) But I did have plenty of time to think about the nature of faith and my lack thereof. And to learn more about myself – and some faith lessons in the process. “My soul finds rest in God alone.” What I learned in the “storm” I must practice in the “calm” as well: The Lord Alone.
“Faith, walking in the dark with God, only prays Him to clasp its hand more closely.” (Phillips Brooks)